Archive for June 28, 2010

Classical languages, political agendas

Semozhi Aana Tamizhmozhiyam” blazes off the A R Rahman theme number composed to celebrate the conferment of classical status to Tamil. This ancient south Indian language, is now placed in equal extolled pedestal with Greek, Latin and Sanskrit languages. A recent conference showcasing the antiquity, refinement and maturing of the language in the cultural, social, political and religious backdrops of its evolution was held in the city of Coimbatore. The conference captured the essential richness of language’s heritage and its vast literary traditions while scholars debated, dissected and endlessly devoured the sweetness of the innumerable works created in it. As the theme music played on every lips and reverberated on every hearts, Connoisseurs and commoners alike basked upon the fathomless beauty and glory of their tongue to their soul’s content.

To be called classical, a language should satisfy a set of most exacting criteria to which only a handful of the world’s languages qualify. First, it should be ancient, even dating back to antiquity and second, it should have an independent tradition that arose mostly on its own and not as an offshoot of another one. Thirdly, it should possess a vast and extremely rich ancient literature that is unique to it conforming to complex grammatical and literary patterns. And Tamil lives up to each of these benchmarks in ample measure and much beyond. The earliest stone inscriptions in the language dates back to 300 BC and judging by the maturity of the language used therein, it can be safely  said that its existence preceded these inscriptions by at least a thousand years. The language arose purely as an independent tradition not influenced by any other language streams and its literary repertoire is indescribably vast and rich. From the Tollkappiyam,  the Thirukkural and the Manimekalli to the modern works, Tamil literature exhibits a profound subtlety, complexity  and immense variety with underplaying universality in its themes. These characteristics make it all the more suitable to be called a classical language.

While Tamil flourished over the last few millenniums, another Indian classical language also achieved great literary advancement in the very same geographical region of southern India. Right from the beginning of the first century AD, Sanskrit achieved remarkable progress and made immeasurable contributions towards enriching the philosophy, culture, literature and music of the region through the works of the likes of Sayana, Vedanta Desika and Govinda Dikshita. Also, all the three proponents of the three main Indian philosophical streams of Dvaita, Visistadvaita and Advaita, namely Madhavacharya, Ramanujacharya and Adi Sankara have their great volumes of work composed in Sanskrit language and all of them flourished in South India. Their commentaries or Bhashyas on Vedas and Upanishads are today the treasure chest of great Indian heritage as they stand unparalleled, both for the beauty of their compositions as well as for their profound philosophical thoughts. This contribution of the Sanskrit language in South India also extended to fields like mathematics, astrology and astronomy as the works of the stature of Baskaracharya illustrate.

When two great languages vibrantly thrive in close proximity, it’s but natural that they influence and get influenced by one another resulting in the evolution of a composite and highly refined literary traditions that paved the way for the emergence of the most sublime philosophical ideas expressed in flawless language. The Shivaite and Vaishnavite literature propagated by the Nayanars and Alwars   stand testimony to this confluence of thoughts. What is more, the origin and development of the language of Malayalam is the result of this happy and joyous inter-mingling of two great classical languages.

But when political considerations overtake historical truths, when narrow chauvinistic agendas indulge in mindless glorification of the one to the suppression and strangulation of the other, what we get is a truncated and often disfigured replica of an otherwise glorious past. The misplaced enthusiasm of some of the so-called custodians of the Tamil language and their intolerance to an equally vibrant Sanskrit literary tradition has caused immense agony to a large section who pride in their composite and highly refined cultural traditions.

“The mark of wisdom is to discern the truth, from whatever source it is heard” wrote Thiruvalluvar, the great Tamil poet (Tirukkural – 423) and the hardcore Tamil enthusiasts would do well to revisit his works before they indulge in rampant denouncements of the other classical traditions to which they also are the rightful heirs.

Yours

Narayanan

P.S. To view the A R Rahman theme song click at the link given below

June 28, 2010 at 11:42 pm 9 comments


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